What occurred in Gojra is truly shocking. The whole happening and every episode of it, from beginning to end, has exposed the hypocrisy of our society. The brutality of the crime, the flimsy pretext, the negligence of the law-enforcers, the silence of the politicians for days, and the attempts made in the mainstream media to diminish the enormity of the attacks by calling it a fight amongst two groups – these are all stark signs of our deteriorating society.
The conclusion of the fact-finding mission of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has revealed that last week’s attacks targeting Christians in Gojra were not a spontaneous reaction to the allegation of blasphemy but were planned in advance. HRCP is correct in saying that Gojra questions the very foundation of our State and society: ‘The barbaric attacks are an embarrassment for any society or people who call themselves civilized.’
Our history as a country is replete with communal violence, which was perhaps embodied in our very creation. Leaving aside the severe discrimination that religious minorities face in Pakistan one daily basis, violent assaults on their communities are nothing new. There have been many occasions where Muslim mobs have opted to punish whole neighborhoods for an alleged act of blasphemy. One such occurrence took place in 1997 in the town called Shantinagar. Thirteen churches were ransacked and hundreds of homes belonging to Christians were destroyed by the arsonists because somebody somewhere had conducted blasphemy.
Attack on Christians in Shantinagar twelve years ago would have been another gruesome event erased from our collective memory had it not been for Eqbal Ahmed. The victims of Shantinager found expression in the pen of Eqbal Ahmed.
The story of Shantinagar, as told by Eqbal Ahmed, is as relevant today as it was in 1997. The questions that Eqbal Ahmed raises are yet to be answered. The parallels Shantinagar and Gojra show that things have not changed much since Shantinagar. Will they change in future? This is for you and me to decide.
A Town Called Shantinagar
Dawn, 18 February 1997
Newspaper accounts of the terror which the fanatical mob of Muslims visited, on February 6, upon the hapless Christians of Shantinagar are quite uniform. Thirteen churches were ransacked and hundreds of homes destroyed by the arsonists. But statistics cannot convey the enormity of the crime, collectively committed by a section of the majority community, upon fellow citizens belonging to a religious minority.
Available evidence also suggests that some members of Khanewal district’s police force were involved in inciting and organising this atrocity while others were guilty of complicity as they were on-duty spectators. A few are reported to have even helped themselves to the loot. The nightmare ended only after the army arrived to enforce the law. It was the worst incident of sectarian violence in recent memory.